The Great Smoky Mountains are located across Tennessee and North Carolina. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is where you can come to relish in the great outdoors, immerse yourself in thriving forests, discover wildlife like coyotes, deer, and elk, cook delicious meals with your camping cookware, and traverse across numerous hiking trails. You can spend your days walking through wildflowers, swimming in waterfalls, or going horseback riding. End your evenings back inside the comfort of your tent at one of the many campgrounds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains are home to over 1,500 bears, 800-miles of hiking trails, and thousands of vibrant wildflowers that bloom year-round and will leave you in awe.
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- Best Campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains
- Mill Creek Resort – Best Family Owned
- Elkmont Campground – North – Best for Riverside Camping
- KOA- Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg – Best for Kids
- Smokemont Campground – South – Best for Group Camping
- Cataloochee Campground – East – Best for Solitude
- Big Creek Horse Camp – Best for Horse Camping
- Cades Cove Campground – West – Best for Wildlife Spotting
- Cosby Campground – Best for Traditional Camping
- Abram’s Creek Campground – Best for No-Frills Camping
- Balsam Mountain Campground – Best for Campsite Selection
- Anthony Creek Horse Camp- Best for Woods Camping
- Round Bottom Horse Camp – Best for Year-Round Horse Camping
- Great Smoky Mountain Gear Checklist
Best Campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains
Each campground in the national park offers its visitors a unique experience. Some places are better suited for families with children, while others are better suited for those of you who wish to escape the crowd and stay in solitude. Some have refreshing saltwater pools on-site, and others are situated next to cooling streams and are short walks to gushing waterfalls. Even though there are many ones to choose from, we’ve curated a list of the best campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains to make your trip that much easier to plan.
If you’re traveling with children, then you’ll probably want to choose a place that has services like a playground, pool, and basketball court to keep your kids entertained while you’re not on a long hike in the woods. If you plan on bringing your horse, then you’ll want a horse-friendly campground with loads of trails nearby. If you want to travel as a group or travel on your own, there are different places which are better suited for group camping or solitude camping. Each campground will give you the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in nature and live amongst the wildlife, wildflowers, and towering mountains.
Mill Creek Resort – Best Family Owned
This family-owned campground is a great place to come and spend several days in the great outdoors. You’re in the middle of all of the action in Pigeon Forge, while also being far enough away that you get that feeling of added privacy. They have Wi-Fi, water, cable TV, and electric hookups to make your time simple with all the basic amenities. This is a good place to come if you want to go camping, but also want to have all of the home amenities to give you that extra added comfort. There are a basketball court, playground, saltwater swimming pool, and a kiddie pool, making it an ideal place to come if you have a family.
Elkmont Campground – North – Best for Riverside Camping
Elkmont Campground is nestled next to the gushing Little River, making it one of the best places for riverside camping. This also means it’s one of the busiest places to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s at 2,150 feet and encompassed by a thriving forest. You can go hiking, swimming, and fishing in one of the many streams and nearby rivers. You have a good chance of spotting wildlife like elk and bear, and you can also hike to the nearby Laurel Falls, an 80-foot waterfall. It’s also a great place to come if you’re traveling as a group, as there’s tons of space and a lot to do in the area. It can accommodate anywhere between 15-30 guests per site. Hikers will get a kick out of their numerous maintained trails nearby, so get your best trekking shoes on and get going.
KOA- Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg – Best for Kids
The KOA – Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg has some of the best facilities for kids in the Great Smoky Mountains. This is the place to come to if you want to go camping, but also want to experience awesome amenities and activities you wouldn’t otherwise experience during a regular backpacking trip. Some of the local attractions include Dollywood Theme Park and Wonderworks. Your kids will have plenty to do when they’re not out hiking and exploring. They offer spectacular waterfront spots that have fire rings and picnic tables. You can rent bicycles, play basketball, swim in the pool with a Rain Tree, look for fossils at their Gem Mine, watch a movie at the Outdoor Cinema, and play frisbee golf. You and your family will be entertained on your epic trip in the great outdoors.
Smokemont Campground – South – Best for Group Camping
This is one of the best places in the Great Smoky Mountains to enjoy wildlife and the great outdoors. It’s also a good place to stay if you’re in a group on an epic excursion. It’s located amongst forests in a tranquil setting that gives you the opportunity to truly feel that you’re out in the wild. Enjoy the Bradley Fork River which is nearby, where you can splash in the river to cool down or go fishing for trout. You can sleep with gorgeous views of the mountains, pristine rivers, and vivid flowers. This is where you come to shut off your electronics and enjoy the peace and nature around you. The staff is known for being notoriously friendly, which is perfect when you and your loved ones are camping as a big group.
Cataloochee Campground – East – Best for Solitude
If you truly want to escape it all in a remote location in the Great Smoky Mountains, then Cataloochee is the best option for you. It’s easy to escape the crowds and spend your days alone. They offer drinking water and flushing toilets, but no showers, so come prepared. If you love horseback riding, there’s a horse camp on site where you can easily ride a horse. There are scenic trails nearby that offer spectacular viewing opportunities. If you’re into hammock camping, you’re allowed to bring your hammock here, as long as you follow several guidelines like a limit of 2 hammocks per tree and keeping the limit to trees that are 10 inches in diameter. Give yourself some quality alone time and head to Cataloochee.
Big Creek Horse Camp – Best for Horse Camping
If you don’t go anywhere without your beloved horses, then you’re in luck. The Big Creek Horse is the best place for horse camping. It’s also the only horse camp in the Great Smoky Mountains with flushing toilets and potable water. It’s flanked by the calm waters of Big Creek and towering mountains. You can hike or ride your horse to a 35-foot high waterfall called Mouse Creek Falls, with beautiful rocks and cooling pools. The nearby terrain makes it a great place to go horseback riding. It’s also only a couple miles from the Appalachian Trail, so if you’ve always wanted to take a look at the famous trail, now is your chance.
Cades Cove Campground – West – Best for Wildlife Spotting
This is where you can wander on the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Route and try to spot wildlife like white-tailed deer, black bear, turkeys, raccoons, coyotes, groundhogs, birds, and skunks. You can also do a 5-mile roundtrip hike to Abram Falls, with a beautiful deep pool at the base of the waterfall. Come here to relax and truly enjoy the tranquility of the great outdoors. Explore the nearby rhododendron forests, pine-oak forests, and creeks. There are numerous streams and rivers you can go backcountry fishing at. If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, then you definitely have to stay at Cades Cove to truly give yourself a good chance to spot some beautiful wildlife of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Cosby Campground – Best for Traditional Camping
Cosby Campground gives you the best, but most simple services out there. If you’re looking for a no-frills campground, with all of the basic amenities that they traditionally offer, then this is your best bet. This is the place to come to simply set up your tent, without any of the added features that are offered in some of the other places. It’s quieter than many of the others and has a fire ring, picnic table, and a forest that offers shade and comfort. You’ll get tent pads, grills, and tables, making it an ideal place to roast some hotdogs and tell stories around the fire. Nearby attractions include river rafting trips, an aquarium, and skiing during the wintertime.
Abram’s Creek Campground – Best for No-Frills Camping
With nearby hiking trails and fishing streams, come here for the best no-frills camping experience you can have in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s situated at 1,125 feet, which means you’ll experience a moderate climate with mild winters and hot summers. This is the perfect climate for a backpacking adventure, so you can set up your tent and feel comfortable and snug while you fall asleep in the cool weather. Fall asleep to the trickling sound of water from Abram’s Creek, which will help you truly immerse yourself in nature and the tranquil setting of the great outdoors. If you’re looking for some of the best no-frills camping in the Great Smoky Mountains, then definitely check out Abram’s Creek.
Balsam Mountain Campground – Best for Campsite Selection
With over 40 sites to choose from, the Balsam Mountain offers some of the best options in the Great Smoky Mountains for site selection. There are no lights in the restrooms, so if you choose to stay here, make sure you bring your head torch. There are flush toilets and drinking water on site. During the spring and fall, you have the chance to see elk. It’s located at 5,310 feet, so daytime and nighttime temperatures are cool. There are pleasant hiking trails nearby, like the Flat Creek Trail. If you’re looking for a more adventurous hike, then you can take the Hemphill Bald and Rough Fork trails, located across a 14-mile loop. This is also one of the best spots in the national park for trout fishing.
Anthony Creek Horse Camp- Best for Woods Camping
The Anthony Creek Horse Camp is located inside of a tranquil, woody area, and is one of the best spots for woods camping in the Great Smoky Mountains. You must bring your own drinking water when you come here, and you must have a horse. It’s located at 1,800 feet, so temperatures are moderate. A nearby trail will take you up to Bote Mountain, with a strenuous 3,000-foot altitude gain, however, the views are definitely worth the pain. There’s a nearby horse stable that offers one-hour horseback and carriage rides. If you come during the springtime, you’re in for a treat – the pink Mountain Laurel flowers are in full bloom. For some of the best woods camping in the Great Smoky Mountains head to Anthony Creek.
Round Bottom Horse Camp – Best for Year-Round Horse Camping
The Round Bottom Horse Camp is beautiful any time of the year. Whether you come during the spring when the vivid flowers are in full bloom, or during the fall when the tree leaves are at their most vibrant, you’ll fall in love with this campground. It’s located at 3,060 feet and offers its visitors a moderate climate, which is an ideal altitude for you and your horse where it won’t be too hot during the day so you can take long rides without having to worry about them overheating. You can choose from numerous trailheads, and there’s a nearby stream which your horse can drink from. You must have a horse in order to stay here.
Great Smoky Mountain Gear Checklist
Before you head off on your adventure around the Great Smoky Mountains, you’re going to need to make sure you’re prepared with plenty of gear. This means that you’re going to need to bring a good tent that can withstand all sorts of weather. You’ll also want to bring a good sleeping bag and one that does well in chilly temperatures. This is especially true if you’re going to be camping at a higher altitude. If you’re camping at one of the sites without any cafes or restaurants, then you’re going to need to bring your own cookware. This can be pots, bowls, plates, forks, and knives. If you plan on doing a lot of hiking, it’s important to get good hiking shoes that will support your feet and do well in wet weather. Make sure you spend a week or two wearing them before your camping trip in order to break them in, so they don’t give you any blisters while you’re on your trip.
The Great Smoky Mountains offers some of the best opportunities in the world for hiking, fishing, and horseback riding. Different campgrounds offer different amenities and atmospheres based on their location and the services they offer. And depending on where you’re located in the USA, some campgrounds may be closer to drive to than others, making their location more convenient for transportation to and from your house. If you don’t mind making the drive, then you might want to choose one that’s further away but better suited to what you’re looking for on your adventure.
The Great Smoky Mountains is one of the most beautiful places in the world, so grab your gear and head out on an adventure you’ll never forget